, April 7, 2004
DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco  - "If FPJ wins, things will get worse. If Gloria wins, things will be the same, which is bad."

Thatís a direct quote from a disillusioned member of the countryís fast vanishing middle class as reported by Ricky Carandang in a recent article for Newsbreak magazine. The quote expresses the sense of hopelessness that educated professionals and small entrepreneurs feel about life in this country today.

No wonder, in the period between 1975 and 1991, the number of processed Filipino contract workers grew 20 times, from 36,000 to almost 700,000. Today there is an estimate of some eight million Filipino citizens living and working abroad. If you add those who have acquired foreign citizenships, the figure could easily exceed ten million. I dare say there are very few corners on earth that have not been invaded by Pinoys.

For those who leave the country for jobs our economy cannot provide, it is a matter of survival. But on top of those who must leave in order to feed their families, more and more people from the middle class leave the country by choice Ė in order to give their children a better future.

I know of some parents who are not doing that badly here but who have taken the ultimate risk of migrating, "for the sake of the children." They have closed their eyes to the difficult job market abroad, specially for foreign trained workers in their late 30s or early 40s. They are dismayed by our politics, lack of social discipline and the general anarchy that characterize life in our islands.

Those are the reasons too why I allowed my children to take that route. I had the opportunity to do that myself in the 70s, but at that time, I was still full of hope for our country. I thought it would turn around soon after we got rid of the Marcos dictatorship. I was wrong. I now figure I no longer have the credibility to tell my children to wait it out some more.

Yet, deep inside me, that flicker of hope for our country is still burning. This is why I was filled with pride and emotion to find out that one of my nieces, the granddaughter of my uncle, the late journalist Mao Chanco, won a recent public speaking contest, by telling the world that she isnít about to join the exodus out of the country any time soon.

Patricia Chanco Evangelista, a current UP Speech and Drama major, won first prize and a trip to London to compete internationally, in the recent English Speaking Union (ESU) Philippines Public Speaking Competition held in the Social Science Audio Visual Room of the Ateneo de Manila University. What Patricia said in her winning speech, speaks of the dilemma young Filipinos face today. Here are excerpts from her speech.

I was at my cousinís wedding a month ago. I used to have sixteen cousins. Iím Filipino; itís normal. It was a shock to discover that there were only nine of us left. Some are in the US, others in Canada and Australia. Five more are waiting for visas. Itís not just an anomaly; itís a trend. According to Pulse Asia, 22 percent of 1,200 respondents aged 18 and above would like to leave the Philippines for good.

Last Christmas, our neighbors came back to the Philippines, after five years in the States. The proud papa talked about how it was so rewarding to be able to send all four of his big, strapping boys to Uncle Sam. He went on about how hopeless the Philippines is: the awful economy, the awful politics, the awful weather, the awful traffic and the awful people.

Iím not talking about people working as overseas contact workers. Iím talking about college-educated, middle-class, private-school kids, people I went to high school with whom Iíll probably never see again. They go off to other countries as a matter of course: itís the ticket to a better life.

True, things may not be perfect in the Philippines. We went from the tiger cub of the Pacific to the sick man in Asia. We have actors playing at being politicians and politicians playing at being actors. A borderless world presents the way out.

When I was a kid, I had another dream. I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to save the world and slay dragons. Thatís a dream I never really outgrew. I figure if I wanted to do something, my best shot is at home. The country needs people who have the guts to stick it out, and thatís what Iím asking young Filipinos all over the country to do.

We all have something to give, itís just a question of to whom. America doesnít need us. Canada doesnít need us. The Philippines does. In 1981, Ninoy Aquinoís words spurred the People Power Revolution that toppled the countryís worst dictator. He said that the Filipino is worth dying for. Today, I say the Filipino is worth living for.

Iím not staying in the Philippines just because of selflessness or misplaced idealism. I canít afford to. Iím staying, because twenty years from now, I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I didnít take the easy way out.

Iím a Filipino, and Iíll always be one. Iím going to succeed. I know I am. But even if I donít become rich and famous, even if I donít slay any dragons, Iíll be able to live with myself. Thatí means more to me than seeing snow outside my window.

Middle Class

Patricia definitely touched on something very important thatís going on, transforming the nature of our society today. This is the phenomenon of the vanishing middle class. Not very large to begin with, the middle class has become a threatened class as well. A recent article in Newsbreak magazine tells us how bad the situation has become.

Consumer trends, according to Newsbreak, point to a shrinking middle class. The magazine interviewed Yolanda Villanueva Ong, chief executive of advertising agency Campaigns and Gray, who told them that the middle class is getting smaller both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the total population.

According to Ms. Ong, "this is being borne out in consumer and advertising trends. Clients who sell products that cater to middle-income consumers have noticed a decline in their sales over the years. Hence you see them increasingly rolling out products and variants aimed at the lower end, or mass market."

Ms. Ong, a classmate of mine at UP Mass Comm in the early 70s, says medium-priced goods, or those primarily bought by the middle classes, are always the first to see slower sales in a recession, while products for the highest and lowest segments tend to weather recessions better.

Newsbreak cited another important indicator: the migration of students from private schools to public schools. Figures from the Department of Education show that in school year 1967-68, 59.5 percent of high school students were enrolled in private schools, while 40.5 percent went to public schools. By school year 1999-2000, at least 75.9 percent of high school students were going to public schools and only 24.1 percent were in private schools.

Since the quality of private school education is generally superior to that in public schools, middle-class families who are forced to make do with a public school education are also sealing their fates. Newsbreak points out, "as they graduate from school with fewer skills, the jobs they need to have to improve their incomes become harder to land."

In a sense, my niece Patricia is lucky. She was able to get good primary and secondary education in a good private school and UP still manages to give a good university education despite its budget problems. We will surely need young people like her to help save this country in the future, for if all the capable ones leave for abroad, who would be left behind to do what must be done to get us back on track?

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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